It's hard not to have a lot of respect for walk-ons. These hopefuls take the pounding each week getting the Irish prepared to play, and they do it knowing they'll likely never play a down of football for the Irish.
I've often wondered why. Why would these walk-ons sign up to become a tackling dummy or blocking foe for usually much larger and more athletically gifted players with little chance of playing?
According to former Irish walk-on Joe Recendez, they do it out of their love for the Irish.
"I think for all of us, the walk-ons, every single one of us love Notre Dame," said Recendez . "We grew up with Notre Dame football. I don't think there was a single one of us who didn't grow up cheering for Notre Dame. That's why I don't think any one of us would trade the experience we had, even though many of us didn't get to play."
Recendez walked-on to the Notre Dame football team in 1998 after already spending a few years at Notre Dame as a regular student. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago, Ill.) high school standout said he just felt the itch to play football again.
"I was fortunate," said Recendez when asked how he became a walk-on. "My high school coach is good friends with (former Irish recruiting coordinator) Bob Chmiel. He was able to get in touch with (Chmiel) for me, and he gave me coach Chmiel's number and I got in touch with him. I believe that was my sophomore year.
"He just told me to show up for winter workouts one day. Basically, I was with the team from then on. I'm not really sure what the process was, but for me, they just told us to show up for workouts, then it went into spring practice and into the fall."
Recendez said the process of becoming a walk-on was actually kind of confusing, and he wasn't quite sure he was on the team for quite some time.
"It wasn't much of a tryout I guess. We were more invited to come workout I guess," Recendez said when asked what was involved with walking on to the Irish football team.
"I was never told to go home," he said with a big laugh. "Maybe each year is different depending on how many walk-ons they need. We all started winter workouts together and then stuck with the team."
But wait a minute, they had to try out, didn't they? We've all seen ‘Rudy," right?
"Oh yeah, definitely, I'm sure we all did," said Recendez when asked if he thought he had to try out. "The night before we were told to show up early to get our equipment. I think we all thought we were trying out. It was never stated. It was never anything formal that we were part of the team. We just kept coming back and next thing you know the season started and I was on the team the rest of the time."
The former Irish tight end said his position coach, Steve Addazio, was very upfront about his chances of ever playing for the Irish.
"He said slim to none," Recendez said of finding out about his prospects of playing for the Irish. "I remember after my first spring with him, he looked at me and said; ‘you're 225 pounds. That's pretty small for a tight end. I'm not going to lie to you. I don't think you're going to see any playing time.' I already expected that. It wasn't like it was shocking to hear."
But the draw of wearing the blue and gold was just too strong to pass up for the Chicago, Ill. native.
"My thing was just to be on the team, just to be part of it all," said Recendez of his motivation for walking on. "I never had any crazy dreams that I'd ever play. I didn't even know how it worked for suiting up for games. I was always under the impression that we didn't even get to suit up for the games, probably because I saw ‘Rudy.'"
And like Rudy, Recendez was able to play and actually suited up for most home games, and he even earned a scholarship for his final season.
"After you suit up for your first home game, you're good for the rest of the time there," he said.
"My fifth year, I got to play against Navy down in Orlando," he added. "We were blowing them out, and it was getting towards the end of the game. I was just thinking maybe Addazio would let me in. My roommate at the time, Chad DeBolt, said ‘tell Addazio to let you in.' I said "I'm not going to tell him to let me in,' so he went and got Dan O'Leary and O'Leary told him to let me in.
"(Addazio) just told me to get in there. I got in for about four plays. It was one of the best days of my life."
Plenty of Irish fans would jump at the chance to don the blue and gold, but not many are willing to sacrifice like Recendez did to get a chance to play just four plays for Notre Dame. Was it all worth it?
"Absolutely," Recendez proudly stated. "It was everything I had been working for. It was such an exciting thing. So much goes through your mind when you get out there and it happens so quickly. It just felt so great to be out there."
While Recendez said it was a great experience to play; he admits it wasn't always easy to show up for practice every day.
"It's hard. There's guys in the dorm that would say ‘I wouldn't even waste my time' because they knew I wasn't probably ever going to play.
"Coach Addazio, he and (Urban) Meyer would yell at us all the time, but I never once thought about quitting. It never even crossed my mind. It was too much fun to be out there. I actually thought (the yelling) was funny. You just had to look at it as instruction."
How did the scholarship players treat the walk-ons?
"The players didn't treat us any differently at all," he said. "We were just part of the team like anyone else. As a walk-on, you're doing most of the scout team stuff. We're with those guys every day. They don't look at us any differently. They all treated us like members of the team, which was nice."
The hardest thing about being a walk-on?
"I don't really think there was anything really hard about it," Recendez answered. "I guess looking back on it, we did all the same things that the scholarship players did without getting any financial support, so that was kind of hard I guess, but I wouldn't trade that for anything. All the good things and all the perks, it certainly outweighs any negatives."
The best thing about being a walk-on?
"The ability to say that I was a Notre Dame football player," he said. "That's something that I'd never trade. That alone made it all worth it. I wish I could do it all over again now."